This is HoopsHabit’s Roundtable Discussion. Each week, five questions will be sent to the staff writers covering the teams in a specific division. This week, we cover the Pacific division.
1. Biggest surprise in the division?
Jacob Hammond, Kings columnist- Gotta be the Phoenix Suns, they were picked by many to finish dead last in the West and right now they look like a playoff team. Even with the injury to Eric Bledsoe, they have still played some great basketball. Goran Dragic and Miles Plumlee look like All-Stars with their play.
Gerald Bourguet, Asst. Editor, Warriors/Suns columnist- Even though they’re starting to slip in the playoff race out West with Eric Bledsoe sidelined, the biggest surprise of the season still has to be the Phoenix Suns. This team was expected to be Philadelphia’s main competition for a top lottery spot. It wasn’t just the experts that thought the Suns would be terrible; EVERYONE thought they’d be terrible. But the Suns are still clinging to the 7th seed in the West and if Bledsoe hadn’t needed surgery on that meniscus, this team could’ve realistically competed for the fifth seed. Phoenix isn’t just the surprise of the division, they’re the surprise of the 2013-14 NBA season.
Phil Watson, Asst. Editor- Phoenix, without question. No one saw this team getting anywhere near .500, much less contending for a playoff spot.
Shane Young, Lakers/Pacers columnist- For me, its a race between the Phoenix Suns looking revived under Head Coach Jeff Hornacek and the Lakers appearing to finish last in the division. Our entire panel predicted the Suns to miss the playoffs, but the cohesiveness between Dragic and Bledsoe has been better than I imagined before the season. When Bledsoe is able to return from injury, we could see them in a first round matchup against a top tier West team. That shall be entertaining.
2. Best player in the division?
Hammond- DeMarcus Cousins, he is seventh in the league in scoring at 23.4 points, fifth in the league in rebounds with 11.6, and he averages three assists per game. He is playing like the best big man in the game right now. In addition the Kings are looking like a better team with the trades they have made and are building something in Sacramento.
Hammond- By the time Kobe does return the team will be in dead last in the West, and more than likely Pau Gasol will have been traded away, so it will be Kobe and a bunch of nobodies. So he will be the whole offense and will average a ton of shots per game so I would say 20-25 points per game.
5. Where will the Suns finish in the West?
Hammond- It is going to be hard for the Suns to make the playoffs with Memphis getting healthy, Dallas willing to make deals, and Denver finding its stride. The Suns are playing great and will be in the discussion, but I believe they will finish 9th or 10th, just out of the playoffs.
Bourguet- Thanks to the cruelty of the basketball gods, they’ll finish right where I warned every team in the Western Conference NOT to be: fringe playoff territory. With Bledsoe was on the floor, they might have pulled off a playoff upset depending on their first-round matchup. But his absence hinders Phoenix’s ability to climb the standings and they’ll likely finish the season in the seven or eight seed, which means a first-round elimination. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, they’ll be close enough to ruin their chances at a franchise-changing draft pick. With the loaded 2014 NBA Draft class inbound, the two best options for every team were either contend for a title or tank your brains out. The Suns were never contending for a title, but Bledsoe’s injury puts them right in the middle, the worst place to be.
Watson- The next four to six weeks are crucial for the Suns. If they can stay afloat until Bledsoe is back, Phoenix can finish as high as seventh out West. But if he’s not effective when he gets back, they could slide as far as 10th or 11th.
Young- Phoenix has a young core, the fourth youngest team in the NBA. They’ll have the energy and desire to make a run in April, likely allowing them to finish 7th or 8th in the West. The only reason it’s hard to put them higher is because I believe the Denver Nuggets will join the mix and win more games down the stretch. It’s going to be an even tighter race at the bottom of the West than last season.